Improvising Composer Core Concept #1

Day 215 Week 31 Q3 Friday, August 4, 2023


One hole musicians who only play by themselves often fall into is not having a steady pulse. Of course, tempo can change within a piece but be very conscious about it, or you will not be able to play with others. Speaking of playing with others – playing for two hours with another musician may be worth more than two years of lessons. This is especially true when improvising because this requires a conversation, and conversing requires not stepping on each other’s toes. It is hard to be in rapport when interrupting each other all of the time. This makes for a disjoint dialogue.
So what is the first thing you have to do: Internalize the pulse. You have to become very steady. Work with a metronome. Play with it, turn it off, keep playing, and turn it back on to see if you are still in time. If not, then do it simply by counting, turning it off, and coming back to see if you have lost a beat or gotten fractionally off.


Have you ever noticed a band with improvisers in it warming up? They do not immediately jump into a song or a piece. They first get locked into each other’s sense of time or rhythm. This can take forever if they have not played together before and are not very experienced. That is to say; they might never get there.


Not every culture counts the same way. Different cultures place different emphases and durations on beats. When changing styles, you may have to count differently as well. Be aware of the groove. Western cerebral musicians are often, note centric not rhythm centric. You do not play swing the same way you play Bach. On the other hand, swinging Bach might be cool but unswinging jazz – not so much. There is even a famous song called It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing. And Afro-Cuban, Latin jazz, flamenco and African drumming all have their equivalents of swing. That is to say, not all beats are equal. Not equal in length. Not all are equal dynamically, And they move around sometimes ahead of the beat and sometimes behind the beat.


Remember playing the right notes at the wrong time is totally useless. If you can not get to something in time, either leave it out or slow down the tempo until you can play and stay in some sort of a groove. Until you can be rhythmically said, there is no point in trying to do any fancy stuff. Even the wrong note at the right time is better than the right note at the wrong time.


If you turn around the beat which generally happens when you lose a beat, you will be out of sync with those you are trying to have a conversation with, and both of you will become frustrated and lose interest.


Pulse first, Time Signature second, and Groove third.